A few things have popped up lately, mainly on Facebook.

First I was sent to YouTube to watch an episode of an Australian current affairs show I rarely watch these days, for reasons that will come out in my Facebook comment on it. But first, here is the show:

I wrote a mini-essay of a comment on Facebook:

Teachers are wonderful!

This one is anyway and eclipses most of the political and bureaucratic crap and (even worse) the shit that appears in anything Murdoch. I am far too old, a retired campaigner these days, but heartened that people like this teacher exist.

And I am sure a legion more….

Heads up to so many I have known directly or through FB, and this is just a sample: Ernie Tucker, Maximos Russell Darnley, Tess Kenway, Rowan Cahill, Darcy Moore, Steve Storey …. I could go on….

A shame about the idiot from The Australian, Greg Sheridan, who trots out combined ignorance and ideological prejudice, but he is thoroughly and politely put down for the fool he is. I have coached in the kind of place Greg Sheridan describes — a Korean one — and my experience very often was the majority of the parents who sent their kids were wasting their money. The Chinatown one I worked in for a number of years that was strictly on a one-on-one basis, and not so much about profit, was an entirely different matter.

That decrepit old bastard from The Oz is the only waste of space in this episode of The Drum.

The ABC alas too often bends over double backwards with pike to placate the spurious claims of “left bias”. This is sadly one reason I rarely watch The Drum, though there are good moments, as in this one.

I see the ABC as having a commendable bias towards intelligence.Adrian Piccoli, though a one-time LNP NSW Education Minister, and a good one, really does understand. Well worth having on this segment.

Some of the teachers I named commented afterwards, and in response to Greg Sheridan I referred to a post I wrote while I was still an ESL teacher at Sydney Boys High: Thoughts on coaching.

There is nothing surprising about parents seeking to have their children coached. Many of the SBHS parents come from cultural backgrounds where such help is the norm, even if (as we see in the hagwon story below) it may be argued that this is over-the-top. China’s determination to reduce the burden on students and to seek a broader view of education (see below) is interesting too.

Xiao Wu (Year 12 2001), a very successful HSC student, now counsels parents and students to realise that the pressure to get into a selective school ought not to be so strong; it is not like China where getting into the right school is the only way to ensure a first-rate career or choice of university. (It should be added that coaching is not so common in China as it is in Korea or Japan.) Xiao also sees the importance of participating fully in any cocurricular activities the school offers, citing the burn-out factor as being a significant reason for being somewhat less academically single-minded. In his case he had little choice, but does have regrets that he could not participate as much as he would have liked.

One can understand parents seeking coaching when the system confronts them with high stakes tests such as the Selective Schools Entrance Test–especially when parents feel they cannot help their children themselves in this new environment. Their feeling–not entirely wrong–is that their sons and daughters are starting behind the line compared to native speakers. To try to correct that by whatever means is not in itself reprehensible. However, the ethics and activities of some coaching colleges are quite clearly reprehensible.

The argument that coached students are hot-house specimens does, however, deserve rebuttal. If it were so, they would wilt once the initial purpose of coaching had been achieved. Actually being in a competitive selective school environment would show their weakness. It is fair to say that in the majority of cases this is simply not apparent. The students in general thrive, and were probably deserving of entry anyway. Nor are all coached students nonparticipants in cocurricular activities; if that were so the situation at Sydney Boys High in music, debating and sports would be far worse than some fear it is. Indeed, to judge from the 2006 edition of The Record (which did come out on time this year!) all the above are very healthy indeed, even if participation rather than absolute success characterises a few sports.

Clearly I would have posted, and indeed did post, quite a lot related to teaching on my blogs — search “teaching” or check the categories “education” and “schools” in the sidebar.

Two such posts: I return to teaching — 1985 and Reflections on one ex-student, but also on the issues of partisan politics and stereotyping.

The first suggests that I left at one stage — and indeed there have been breaks in my career. In a statement I just made recently on Facebook I wrote:

Being a good teacher is not just about qualifications and measurable outcomes. It is about humanity and empathy — and fallibility. It is in fact a relationship. It can be a glorious job, but it can also bring pain at times. Sometimes we win, sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we burn out. I have done all three in my time.

1985 marked my recovery from one such period of burnout, in the early stages of which I spent much time contemplating the grass in Glebe Point’s Jubilee Park, and also had my first sessions of therapy… However, that time also saw the editing of the magazine Neos: Young Writers and a productive job at Harkers Bookshop in Glebe. From Term 3 1985 I was back in the saddle at Sydney High where the young ScoMo was a Prefect! I was getting to know the people who became the wonderful Class of 1986, quite a few of whom I am still in touch with. That entry on returning to teaching tells of them.

From the Class of 1986

My first teaching appointment was Cronulla High School — 1966 (practice session in 1965) to 1969. I have been back, particularly in 2011 when the school had its 50th birthday. See these posts.

2011 — back to Cronulla

Just the other day on Facebook this class photo appeared. Bundeena is to the south of Cronulla, just across Port Hacking. Students from Bundeena Public School normally went to Cronulla High.

Colourised by me. It’s a composite class, so the 4E5 referred to would have been 1968 or 1969. Back row second from the left seems to be wearing a Sydney Boys High tie. Interesting.

I suggested there was every chance I taught some of them at Cronulla High, and then came one of those magic teacher moments:

Does my ageing bones good to get a comment like this from the person who posted this school photo from more than 50 years ago: “Neil, you taught me English for my School Certificate I think it was 4E5, we had a great year & you were so good to us, thanks, I am bottom row extreme left.”

And here is the young teacher he remembers — a student took this in 1968 or 1969:

How good is that! Yes, I remember 4E5 — they were for a young teacher a touch difficult at times, being shall we say very different to what I had been used to as a student myself at Sydney High, or of course at Sydney University. But it really is heartwarming to have been so remembered by one of them at least after all these years!

I was learning about teaching in a real-world way from them at the time…. And here is another post for you to look at.

Random images for an April morning

Cronulla! Part of The Shire where I passed by first quarter-century. Last visited it myself in 2011 on the occasion of Cronulla High School’s 50th anniversary.

And on my last visit:

This is closer to the way I remember Cronulla, one of Ross Myers’ great videos:

But The Gong ain’t so bad either! Been back for over ten years now…. After six months I posted this on YouTube: “Six months I’ve been in The Gong! This show has pics from the first three. And my favourite Chinese music.”

You guessed it: The Butterfly Lovers Concerto for violin played by Yu Lina — from Michael Xu’s cassette in fact!

Remembering the Cronulla Sand Dunes…

Prompted by this amazing photo posted on Facebook by Helen Grant:

1935 Clarry Jeavens helping his wife climb the sand hills at Kurnell.

By way of contrast here from a set published in the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader is 2005 — photo by Robert Pearce.

Sand mining.

See Wikipedia on Cronulla Sand Dunes — a sad story.

The original inhabitants on the Kurnell Peninsula were the Gweagal people, a clan of the Tharawal (or Dharawal) tribe who occupied the region for thousands of years. Their tribe spanned the areas between the Cooks and Georges Rivers from the shores of Botany Bay and westwards towards Liverpool. According to a Gweagal elder, “Dharawal is similar to a state and Gweagal is similar to a shire within the state, Cunnel (Kurnell) is a family village within the shire”. A clan consisted of approximately 20 to 50 people who lived in their own territory. They had no written language and each tribe had its own dialect. They knew how to light fires long before the arrival of white man. Their clothing consisted of a woven hair sash in which they used to carry tools and weapons and sometimes the optional possum-skin coat for the winter season. The Gweagal were the northernmost people of the Dharawal nation. They fished from canoes or from the shore using barbed spears and fishing lines with hooks in and around Botany Bay and the Georges River. Waterfowl could be caught in the swamplands (Towra Point), and the variety of soils would have supported a variety of edible and medicinal plants. Birds and their eggs, possums, wallabies and goannas were also a part of their staple diet, in which they made fur coats and ceremonial attire. The abundance of fish and other foodstuffs in these heavily timbered waterways meant that these natives were less nomadic than those of Outback Australia. The various middens, rock carvings and paintings in the area confirm this.

Famously the WW2 movie about WW1, The 40,000 Horsemen, was filmed here.

So were some key scenes in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985).

And of course the original video for Men at Work, A Land Down Under:

Several times in the 1950s and 1960s I hiked in the sand hills. It was an amazing place. Once you descended into the valley behind the first dunes, the sound of the surf vanished completely.

Bloody sand-mining….

Even more from ten years ago!

Yes, February 2011 — and a video from the 2011 set in my tiny YouTube channel takes me back to Cronulla High!

New additions to Wollongong Town Hall
My bookshelf — tells you a lot about me as I culled these from a much larger collection when I left Surry Hills in 2010
From my window
The neighbourhood — looking south

Now, return to Cronulla High, September 2011.

The year that was — 18 — November: 1

So recent, but I have decided on two — the first to do with Cronulla High, and in memory of Frank Stoffels, who passed away in December. He was Claudius in that Hamlet production. For the second entry (tomorrow) I will choose one from the NAIDOC Week set.

A poem and a Cronulla High anecdote

Posted on  by Neil

There was a great book on teaching reading published some years ago: Margaret MeekThe Cool Web. The title comes from a marvellous poem by Robert Graves which featured as Carol Rumens’s Poem of the Week in The Guardian 18 December 2018. I have loved the poem ever since first hearing it read at an English Teachers Conference some time in the 1970s.

The Cool Web

Children are dumb to say how hot the day is,
How hot the scent is of the summer rose,
How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky,
How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by.

But we have speech, to chill the angry day,
And speech, to dull the rose’s cruel scent.
We spell away the overhanging night,
We spell away the soldiers and the fright.

There’s a cool web of language winds us in,
Retreat from too much joy or too much fear:
We grow sea-green at last and coldly die
In brininess and volubility.

But if we let our tongues lose self-possession,
Throwing off language and its watery clasp
Before our death, instead of when death comes,
Facing the wide glare of the children’s day,
Facing the rose, the dark sky and the drums,
We shall go mad no doubt and die that way.

Do read what Carol Rumens says about it.

Now Cronulla High School 1966-9. I was teaching there in those years and among other things, thanks to brilliant teachers like Phyllis Wheeler and Paul Herlinger, I saw some excellent stage performances, including a Hamlet. You may see the Hamlet below.


I am now thinking I know who Claudius is and suspect he may indeed now be a Facebook friend! But it is Hamlet I want you to notice. That is Robert Dalton, the grandson of the poet Robert Graves!

Who’d have thought?

According to Wikipedia “Robert Graves had eight children. With his first wife, Nancy Nicholson, he had Jennie (who married journalist Alexander Clifford), David (who was killed in the Second World War), Catherine (who married nuclear scientist Clifford Dalton at Aldershot), and Sam. With his second wife, Beryl Pritchard (1915–2003), he had William, Lucia (a translator), Juan, and Tomás (a writer and musician).” Clifford Dalton worked for the nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, near Sutherland. Hence his son being at Cronulla High.  He was a director of the Commission’s Nuclear Research Establishment at Lucas Heights, Sydney from 1957 until the time of his death. You can read more about him in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

I only half remember the weird part of the Dalton story — the connection with one of the great scandals of 1960s Sydney — the Bogle-Chandler murders! According to Wikipedia: “By 1957, signs of the cancer that would kill Dalton in 1961 were apparent. Although the cause of death is generally acknowledged, and her belief discounted by informed contemporaries, in her book Without Hardware Catherine Dalton alleged that her husband was murdered; she claimed that the Bogle-Chandler murders were intended to prevent Bogle, a friend of Dalton’s, from investigating her husband’s death.”